For the past few months, since I was diagnosed with stage-4 lung cancer, I’ve felt my life contracting. Time is a gift that arrives in little packets, not the vast, mysterious plain it was when I thought I’d live forever. This has happened before… when my children were newborns, for example, and I got to be a stay-at-home mom for a while. Nothing that happened before they were born and nothing that was going to happen when I went back to work mattered much. The only things in sharp focus were the baby and the new routine… warm bathwater, fresh clothes, mealtime, and overpowering love.
These days, metaphorically I’m playing Barbies with little kids in a sunny square of sidewalk. I’ve developed the spontaneous mindfulness of children. My new superpower is the ability to shut off guilt and regret, anxiety, and fear, living inside the spatial perimeter of that square and the temporal boundary of that hour. Physically I’m warmed and comforted by sunlight and toddler kisses.
This works great for me, but people have questions. They want to know what I’m doing about the cancer and what’s going to happen when the chemo stops working. They’d probably like to know how long I’m going to live, too, but, politely, they don’t ask. Still, it seems as if I should care about these questions, and right now I don’t. I have to trust that when I need certain answers, I’ll get them. Meanwhile, I let the questions bounce off my square of sidewalk. Otherwise they interrupt my dancing.
In the weeks and months B.C. (Before Cancer), I fretted. My life seemed too small. Rather than appreciating the sunrises and sunsets I was dependably receiving, I chafed at limitations. I wanted to be out there in the world, doing things, going to concerts, riding my e-bike, waltzing in a pavilion, meeting friends for lunch. Truth be told, I longed to buy a mini-motor home and take to the road. These days (A.D.—After Diagnosis), I’m enchanted by late-summer sounds—katydids, crickets, and the change in the pitch of children’s voices as they wring every drop of joy out of the final days of summer vacation.
A cancer diagnosis has an unexpected cushion: People treat you like you’re special—or maybe you just feel special and people react accordingly. It’s as if they think you’re particularly brave or strong when, really, all you are is unusually conscious. And your cancer gives them something to do to demonstrate their love for you. Trust me on this—every card, letter, phone call, email… every token of friendship… means the world. Don’t for a minute think the little things don’t matter. Maybe they can’t cure cancer, but the hugs warm my heart and the prayers keep me afloat.
To be continued…